I entered the Newton Theater in New Jersey on a cool, spring night last week. When I walked into the theater, I heard people whispering about the literal wall of Marshall amp heads and cabs that Yngwie had on stage (it was 50+ heads by the way, with about 11 of them active and running). It truly was a sight to be seen.
This would have been the first time I had ever seen Yngwie Malmsteen play live. I’ve seen many of the other guitar virtuosos, so this was really set up to be a special night. Smoke filled the stage, as Yngwie, his drummer, keyboard player, and bassist/singer entered.
Yngwie Malmsteen is a man out of time. I feel like he would be friends with the great composers back in the ages of Bach and Mozart. Having listened to Malmsteen’s albums for nearly 20 years, it was eye opening to see him perform live. I was able to get some good insight as to what still makes him one of the best guitarists of our time. Here’s what I learned:
Yngwie is a showman
For a while people would joke on Yngwie (about his weight or attitude), but that night Yngwie looked like he did 20 years ago. Not only was his appearance “rock n’ roll” ready, you could tell Yngwie was still a true showman, even at 53 years old.
He was kicking his legs out while running sweep picked arpeggios, doing absolutely wrong things to his guitar (a la Jimi Hendrix), and running around the stage like a madman. He must have went through over 100 guitar picks, and worked the crowd like a charm. His voice is still there too, as he took the lead on a bunch of songs.
To be able to play the way Yngwie plays is already incredible. When he combines that with true showmanship, it puts him in another class.
3 notes per string and it’s all in the wrist
I was very close to the stage throughout the night (which was kind of dangerous, because Yngwie’s amps were blaring). I noticed Yngwie still using 3 or 6 note per string riffs throughout the entire night. If you’ve ever checked out Troy Grady’s Cracking the Code series, you’ll see Troy break down Yngwie’s picking techniques.
Another thing I noticed was that it seemed that all of Yngwie’s pick motions were coming from his wrist, and that he barely moved his arm the whole night. That could’ve been because of his enormous watch he had on his picking hand, or just great technique. Either way, it allowed him to play with blazing speed, and accuracy.
Delay, volume swells, and wah
I didn’t get a good look at Yngwie’s pedalboard, but from listening to him the entire night, any time he relied on effects they were volume swells, delays, a wah, or a combination of the effects.
Yngwie uses delays to create classical melodies that danced around the PA system of the theater. His neo-classical stylings didn’t sound dated, they sounded epic. The band sounded huge, and everyone he had in his lineup was a solid player.
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Getting it all done on a Strat
Yngwie used 2 of his signature Fender Strats, throwing them to his guitar tech throughout the night on stage left. The tech hurried to bring new batches of picks to Yngwie’s mic stand as he used 5-6 picks or more each song.
Yngiwe’s tone was drenched in distortion, but you could still hear note definition as he ran through legato and sweep picked lines. His amps were some of the loudest I’ve ever heard at a show, so the whole band kind of stunned you throughout the night with volume. It reminded me of seeing Metallica or AC/DC.
There’s something to be said about getting this type of music done on a Strat with single coils. Malmsteen’s signature pickups cut through the rest of the band the entire night, and it was never difficult to hear what he was playing.
Confidence is key
This ties into what I had said above about Yngwie being a showman. Each song he played, he played it with extreme confidence. No matter how difficult the riff, he did it with ease.
Yngwie might not be the best guitar player of all time, but watching him live, you’d be hard pressed to believe that he’s not one of the best in the last couple of decades. He exudes a confidence that’s very fun to watch live. I’ve seen this in other players too, like Vai, Petrucci and Satch.
He’s a guitar player’s guitar player
You could tell how Yngwie looked at his guitars, that this is a man who LOVES playing. You can get a sense of this by hearing a guitar player speak, how they approach the instrument, and how they play live.
Yngwie loves the guitar, and it shows. Even after all these years, he still seems to have a passion for playing, whether that be to thousands of people or hundreds of people. This style of music isn’t the most popular genre of music out there, but the theater was nearly sold out come show time.
There were musicians there, older folks, Dad’s bringing their kids to their first show (how lucky), and a variety of other people. It really spoke to how varied Yngwie’s audience still is, all this time later. Which ultimately leads back to our question…
So is Yngwie still any good, and how can I play like him?
The short answer is absolutely yes. Yngwie’s still got it, and he’s a master of his craft. I remember mid-way through the show, Yngwie’s bass player saying, “you’ve got the world’s greatest guitarist in your house tonight!” It was hard to disagree with him after seeing the type of show that Yngwie put on.
There are a couple of things you can do right now to start on the path to sounding similar to Yngwie, or taking good elements from his playing style. Here are a few to get you started:
Learn the 3 note and 6 note per string method. This’ll help you navigate the fretboard with a higher amount of speed because of pick mechanics. Check out Troy’s picking courses here.
Listen to who Yngwie listened to. This can be said for any of your guitar heroes. Explore their influences. For Yngwie, he listened to guys like Paganini and other classical musicians, mixed with 70’s and 80’s rockers (like Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore).
Learn the natural minor and harmonic minor scales. Yngwie relies on both of these scales heavily for many of his riffs.
Don’t be afraid to play 3 note patterns with your first three fretting hand fingers, leaving the pinky open to play higher notes.
Learn how to sweep pick. Start with smaller 3 string sweeps, and move up to full arpeggios across the neck.